Law and Conversation

September 23, 2011

Mental health and criminal justice: The Treatment and The Cure

Challenge ButtonI posted a review of Australian writer Peter Kocan’s “The Treatment and The Cure” over on The Europa Challenge Blog this week. Kocan’s work is a worthy addition to the canon of literature dealing with the treatment of mental illness – the criminally insane, in particular. He knows what he’s writing about: he himself was sentenced to life in prison for attempting to assassinate the Australian Labor Party leader in 1966, when he was 19. After spending around ten years in a prison asylum, he was released. Since then, he’s made a career as a writer and has won major literary awards in Australia. Hope you’ll click on over and have a look at my review. Even better, read Kocan’s autobiographical book for yourself. It’s a compelling, and chilling, story.

Treatment of the mentally ill has a long and sordid history. In recent years, some judicial systems have tried addressing offenders with mental illnesses through setting up specialty courts, which I wrote about in the April 2008 issue of the Illinois Bar Journal. Kocan’s narrator doesn’t appear to be mentally ill at all; he describes a system in which, from his point of view, treatment in the form of medication or electroshock sessions is administered more for punishment, or on whim, than for therapy.

Other memorable stories of mental illness include Joanne Greenberg’s “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar,” and the movie based on Sylvia Nasar’s biography of Nobel laureate John Nash, “A Beautiful Mind.” Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” of course, is a classic novel about a prison mental hospital made into an equally classic movie with a superb performance by Jack Nicholson.

What are you reading this weekend?

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